The Strange Pleasure Of Drawing A Lost Game

In the sixth and final round of the Pittsburgh Chess Club Tuesday night tournament that I just completed, I experienced a pleasure that is very rare in my games: the strange pleasure of drawing a lost game. In a way, this game was the game of my tournament that I was most proud of, because of how much I suffered and struggled out of a mistake in the opening, and managed to not lose! The game was the last game of the tournament to complete; when we finished, most people had already gone, and the prize money winners had already collected their cash and left. (I was no longer in the running for any prize money, because of my draw and loss in previous rounds.)

A summary of my game: out of a strange opening played by my opponent (rated USCF 2061), I missed a chance at a refutation of Black’s play at 6, and then at move 9 made a blunder that meant struggling for almost four more hours for a draw, because my blunder left me with a severely weak e Pawn as well as surrendering my Bishop pair. One way or another it looked like I was probably going to lose a Pawn eventually. It turned out that my opponent won the wrong Pawn, my Pawn at h2, and I took advantage of the distraction to try for counterplay on the Queen side, and after some erroneous play, I was able to force an obviously drawn position by promoting one of my Pawns, to win the exchange in return for two Pawns. The game didn’t actually end there, however, as I was in severe time trouble, and my opponent continued playing to the bitter end, hoping I would make a blunder. I did not, and so I got my draw.

It was a poor tournament for me (final score 4.0/6.0), but I hope it provided some educational fodder!

A couple of salient lessons from this game and tournament as a whole:

  • In the opening, it’s all about development, as illustrated in my round 2 game. Really. It’s amazing how many losing or difficult positions arise out of the opening when someone neglects development. Aside from round 2, my round 3 and round 5 games also featured asymmetrical speed and efficiency of opening development.
  • Activity can matter more than material advantage. When defending and about to lose material, it may be worth seeking counterplay. Even if a computer can refute it, on a practical level I think changing the nature of the game is worthwhile for the defender to become the attacker instead.
  • In time pressure, keep things simple, and don’t be clever. In an equal position, where there is a clear draw, it is too dangerous, with little time on the clock, to complicate matters. Look for the draw, bail out, and fight for a win another day. I failed to do this in my earlier game in round 4 of this tournament, in which I lost an easily and clearly drawn position. In my case, the psychology was complicated by the fact that I was the second-highest rated player in the tournament and part of me wanted to win every game. I know this is a mistaken attitude, because it the objective situation on the board as well as on the clock, combined with an honest assessment of your opponent’s play in the game, that should determine what final result to accept.

Franklin Chen

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About Franklin Chen

Franklin Chen is a United States Chess Federation National Master. Outside his work as a software developer, he also teaches chess and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club in Pennsylvania, USA. He began playing in chess tournaments at age 10 when his father started playing in them himself but retired after five years, taking two decades off until returning to chess as an adult at age 35 in order to continue improving where he left off. He won his first adult chess tournaments including the 2006 PA State Game/29 and Action Chess Championships, and finally achieved the US National Master title at age 45. He is dedicated to the process of continual improvement, and is fascinated by the practical psychology and philosophy of human competition and personal self-mastery. Franklin has a blog about software development, The Conscientious Programmer and a personal blog where he writes about everything else, including his recent journey as an adult improver in playing music.